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An Interview With Robert Levin

Owner, Holt's Cigar Store, Inc., and the Ashton Brand
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

Robert Levin, 50, has been in the cigar business since he was a child. He swept floors, packed shipments and took inventory in his father's retail cigar store in downtown Philadelphia when he was still in grade school.

Levin's experience in the cigar industry includes some of the worst of times, and today, the best of times. He started working for his father full-time in 1973 and took over the business in the late 1970s. Levin consolidated and expanded the family's retail business, capitalizing on a demand for mail order cigars in his local market. In 1985, he launched Ashton cigars, which is one of the most highly respected brands in the marketplace today.

Today, Levin has seen his business grow eightfold since 1992. He not only has a thriving and elegant new retail store and a major cigar brand, but a solid catalogue business as well.

In a wide-ranging interview with Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken, Levin discusses the history of the family's business, as well as the future of the cigar industry.

Cigar Aficionado: How and when did your family first get into the tobacco business?

Levin: My father bought Holt's Cigar Company, which was a small retail store in Philadelphia in the mid- '50s. He was a clothing manufacturer before that. I was about 11 years old when he bought it. So I grew up in the cigar business.

CA: What made him go from clothing manufacturing to the cigar business? Was it just a hobby business?

Levin: No. He had smoked pipes and cigars his whole life. He had just shut down his clothing operation in Philadelphia. He was looking for another business and Holt's became available. He bought it.

CA: How long had Holt's been in business?

Levin: The original Holt's cigar company started in 1911. However, after we purchased Holt's, we also bought Harry Tint & Sons, in 1980, which was another old-time Philadelphia retail cigar store. They started their business in 1898, so today we say Holt's history traces back to 1898.CA: When your dad, Albert Levin, bought the store in the 1950s, how big was the business?

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